Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘coping

Greatest Accomplishment

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I’ve been contemplating a life well-lived after remotely participating in a funeral online last week and then learning of an anticipated death in our friends’ family. Being in the phase of life when I’m closer to my death than I am to my birth, it occurs to me that my greatest accomplishments are quite possibly behind me as opposed to yet to come.

Most days, I feel that my greatest achievement happened when I took action to get treatment for depression. After many years of self-denial about what I was battling, receiving the confirmation of a professional diagnosis was the key that opened the door for my journey toward healthy thinking. Initially relying on medication and talk therapy to interrupt a life-long pattern of dysfunctional thinking, I eventually gained enough command of my faculties to cope on my own, medication-free.

One book I found helpful is “Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn’t Teach You and Medication Can’t Give You” by Richard O’Connor.

I still need to treat my natural inclination toward depression every day with healthy thinking, a reasonable diet, regular exercise, and good-quality sleep habits, but reaching the point where I don’t require support from the medical health industry is something I am proud to have achieved.

Last November and December brought a fresh challenge for me in managing the chemicals bathing my brain in the face of grief and fatigue. The combination of needing to first put down our cat, Pequenita, and then our dog, Delilah, mixed with striving to cope with Cyndie’s unexpected injury pushed me to my limits. I was the sole person tending to the horses (during which two highly stressful horse-health challenges arose), cleared snow after two significant snowfall events, and took over all tasks caring for Cyndie and the house while she is laid up.

The physical fatigue left me susceptible to allowing my old familiar depressive behaviors to return. I don’t find that worrisome because years of good mental health have provided a fresh setting for “normal” that I use for reference, allowing me to notice when intervention is warranted. I have a variety of options to employ but the key to being able to self-treat my depression is the “noticing” and consciously changing something in response.

Mostly, I change my thinking. My thoughts are a major trigger to the chemical reactions going on in my brain and body. Sometimes I just need a nap. Often times I just need more time. Especially when the trigger is grief.

Speaking of grief, the horses were giving me some grief recently. This is a case where it would have been nice to have a camera recording what goes on under the overhang when we are not around.

Somehow they picked up the grate in one of the slow feeder boxes and turned it sideways. I guess they’ve got some great accomplishments of their own to neigh about.



Mostly Coping

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Yesterday was something of a between-day. We enjoyed a break because no new snow fell and the winds had yet to kick up significantly when I walked the trash bin down to the road last night. At the start of the day, Mia seemed to be functioning normally and all the horses appeared to have dealt with the overnight cold just fine. Mix wanted to show off her frosty whiskers.

I wanted to take a picture of her cute frozen eyelashes.

Even though the temperature stayed below zero all day long, they warm up enough in the daylight to melt all the frost off themselves.

I filled my day yesterday by plowing about six inches of light powder from the driveway before pulling snow off the roof over the front entrance. Plenty more snow remains to be moved today but if it gets as windy as predicted, I may just wait one more day.

As the sun was about to set, it glowed through a haze of snow blown airborne across our horizon.

I was on my way down to re-attach the mailbox to its post after it got knocked off by the wash from the township snowplow blade. For the moment, what wind we were getting was coming from the west-northwest which is ideal for the orientation of our barn. Under the overhang, the horses can enjoy the relative calm.

With no wind chill complicating their ability to cope with the extremely cold temperatures, they seem to accept the conditions better than we do. I wonder if it is because they have no other choice, while we keep going back inside warm accommodations as much as possible.

Do they keep hoping for a day when the bite of bitter cold loosens its grip? If there is such a thing as horse sense, I hope they do.



Written by johnwhays

December 23, 2022 at 7:00 am

Grief Grind

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The confluence of stressors we’ve been facing this fall has combined to make my days a repeating pattern of responsibility that is almost more taxing mentally than it is physically. There is a possibility that I will be learning how to bake Christmas cookies this year as Cyndie’s able-bodied kitchen assistant.

One of the more painful repetitions I’m enduring is the lonesome walk to and from the barn three times a day. With Delilah gone and Cyndie unable, I am on my own –morning, noon, and night– on excursions to feed and clean up after the horses. I am curious about whether or not the horses recognize Delilah’s absence.

She didn’t have a close relationship with any of the horses, but I would think the lack of being barked at might seem refreshing for them.

Oh, how that repeated barking annoyed me. Too bad I am too grief-stricken to enjoy the serenity now available in its absence.

Being a little shorter on patience than my more happy self, horse shenanigans quickly raise my ire. I was granted some respite this morning as they cordially volunteered to assume convenient positions and stayed put to finish each of their own pans of feed. Cleaning up under the overhang is an imperfect science during extreme cold but the horses seem to understand my process and kindly grant me unhindered access.

They have grown more interested in eating hay from the boxes which is nice for me because putting an entire bale in a box is less work than filling multiple nets with a couple flakes from bales. I’m filling both for now since they still seem to prefer eating from the nets but there may be a day when just the boxes will be enough.

Probably not until the fields are green again next spring, but a guy can hope. Maybe by then, my heart won’t be so broken over losing Delilah and Cyndie will be able to walk on both feet.

Surviving the grind of fresh grief is helped by envisioning the future time when immediate stressors have abated. In the meantime, it’s one foot in front of the other. 

My daily grief grind.



Written by johnwhays

December 4, 2022 at 11:09 am

Complex Threads

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When headspace is getting cluttered by whatever the catastrophe of the day is, it becomes a struggle to maintain a healthy effort toward cultivating daily awareness of the goodness that surrounds me. The innocent joy visible in Delilah’s eyes reveals she isn’t thinking about the ills of war currently happening in Ukraine. I’m not so lucky.

I wish I didn’t have to know about the complexities of what Russia’s Putin will do if he doesn’t get what he wants.

My present concerns about the challenges faced by the people of Ukraine bring up complicated questions I find myself asking about why this deserves any more attention than similar traumas in all the other regions of the world where large populations of civilians have been displaced by lethal conflicts.

Meanwhile, the calamities unfolding every day from the impact of human-driven climate change rage undiminished by any other distractions that succeed in grabbing my attention. How many billion dollars of damage occurred somewhere in the world from flooding rains, wildfires, or wind storms this week?

That doesn’t take anything away from a blissful moment of interaction I was able to experience with Mia yesterday. While a very spring-like snow shower made it look like we were in a snow-globe scene, I wandered up to one of the paddock gates to visit the horses. Mia came up to meet me.

In a rare instance where she didn’t choose to make it a short visit, I found myself looking for ways to give her whatever attention she might desire. After she satisfied herself with facing me and breathing in my smell, she turned around and very obviously waited to see if I would scratch her butt.

How could I resist? While it is true that presenting their butt can be a way a horse shows disrespect or harmful intent, given the circumstances, I read Mia’s behavior as totally benign.

It was snowing and she was wet, plus my reach was limited through the gate, so she received a rather rudimentary scratching. Regardless, she definitely seemed receptive to the attention and followed it up by turning around again to present her mane, which I spotted had quite a dreadlocked snarl.

To my great surprise, she stood patiently while I feebly struggled to make meaningful progress toward detangling the incredibly tight twists of several sections of hair. I did what I could, trying to take advantage of her willingness, but this was a project that needed more than I could provide through a gate amid wet, falling snowflakes.

She decided to present her butt for more attention one last time before I departed from my little impromptu visit.

Before bedtime last night, as I stood at the mirror in the luxury of my bathroom to brush my teeth, I thought about the complexity of my joys and comforts as they contrast with the simultaneous hostility others are suffering.

Somehow, it seems I shouldn’t allow the ills of the world to squelch the goodness I enjoy, but it would be easier to reconcile the dichotomy of the two if my happiness had influence toward easing the difficulties others are forced to endure.

Complex threads, indeed.



Written by johnwhays

March 15, 2022 at 6:00 am

Snow Cope

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In a day of glorious sunshine yesterday, I labored to move what felt like an endless amount of snow. I succeeded in burying the Grizzly 660 ATV over the edge of the gravel drive around the hayshed. That forced me to get the diesel tractor started, but it wouldn’t be any help unless I could get chains mounted on the tires.

Those chains have been hanging in storage on nails in the back of the shop garage for two years and are so heavy that I can barely lift them. That is one reason I have found every possible reason to avoid using them for so long. Alas, necessity forces muscles to do what it takes and chains quickly became an afterthought while attention moved to dragging the ATV out of the snow and carefully maneuvering the Ford tractor to scoop snow into small mountains without getting it stuck, too.

By the end of the day, I was about halfway done with cleanup. Today I resume clearing snow off the eaves of the house roof and then shoveling away everything that drops onto the deck.

The horses appear to be coping well with the quick transition to deep snow cover and tracks reveal they are making gradual advances on excursions out into the hayfield and back pasture.

The snow up around the overhang is well-trodden so it doesn’t seem all that deep but frozen clumps clinging above hooves provide evidence of the depth they are negotiating out in the fields.

We expect a few more days with highs above freezing and moments of sunshine that will give the horses plenty of opportunities to dry out between their journeys out into the powder.

Coping with all the snow is what we do, even when it requires effort at the limits of available strength at any given moment.

Robustness r us.



Written by johnwhays

December 12, 2021 at 11:20 am

Nice Distraction

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My hope of forgetting about the distressing loss of 22 chickens in one quick event didn’t really work but yesterday’s attempt sure was a nice try. I have to laugh (though it was more like a whimper) now when I look at the images I posted just a few days before the attack, showing all those birds and me sitting among them. That didn’t last long.

Our nice distraction yesterday of friends flying in for a day and the wonderful summeriness of dining on the deck and playing in and on the lake was quintessential lake life. We paddled kayaks and stand-up boards around the island and into the nearby bay, pausing to visit with folks on a neighboring property.

We soaked in the luxurious water and absorbed oodles of solar energy while chatting away the hours. It goes without saying that the food Cyndie and her mom served up was plentiful and divine.

One particularly noteworthy moment of the small-world phenomena came as Mike and Barb were headed down the steps toward Marie’s car for the short drive to the Hayward airport. We had invited a neighboring Wildwood member, Julie, to join us for dinner since she was here alone this weekend. Having visited all day and through the meal on first-name introductions, it wasn’t until we were leaving and Cyndie and Julie were inside cleaning up after the meal that Cyndie mentioned Mike’s Architecture firm does restaurants.

Julie asked what his last name was and then rushed out to re-introduce herself using her last name to reveal Mike and Julie had been working together, albeit, remotely, on one of her restaurants.

Surprise, surprise. And an electric moment for all.

Marie and I watched Barb and Mike’s plane lift off into the hazy air as they departed on their return flight to their lake place in Grand Rapids, MN.









Mike reported the visibility as “Hayseeee.”

Their visit and the grand day at this lake place were a really nice distraction. Unfortunately, the reality I want to be distracted from remains a cold, hard fact… Still.



Written by johnwhays

July 17, 2021 at 7:50 am

Beyond Control

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The lesson I am being given the opportunity to absorb this week involves the concept of accepting things that are beyond my control. I can lure a raccoon to my trap but I can’t force it to step inside.

That’s one version. There is another that is having a much greater impact on my sensibilities. We just learned that the 20-acre plot adjacent to ours along the northern length was sold by foreclosure this month.

So many questions. How come we failed to discover anything about the situation in advance?

I have subsequently stumbled onto a document that reveals the judgment of foreclosure was entered in early April. The notice of foreclosure sale was drafted in May. The public auction sale at the front entrance of the Pierce County Courthouse was scheduled for July 6th at 9:00 a.m.

Did the property sell?

Who might the new owner(s) be?

Might they plan to build a home on the otherwise forested and cultivated acres?

Could we be at risk of losing our precious natural forest boundary that provides a priceless level of privacy?

I have half-seriously pondered many times how special it would be to purchase the forested acres that surround our rectangle of land on two sides, but never imagined it would be feasible.

To find out now that there was an opportunity I failed to notice is something of a gut punch.

If it was purchased successfully, what happens next is largely out of my control.

I’ll imagine that the new owners will strive to drive off the fox that we think lives in those woods and will be prudent about controlling the raccoon population that probably includes the smart one who seems to know all too well to not fall for my baiting tricks.

If they decide to build a house, I will visualize it being located up on the high ground where I’m sure the cultivated fields offer many prime options. That would be well out of sight from our house so that we wouldn’t be a bother to them, you know.

I plan to do more sleuthing to learn if the sale was recorded, and when/where details were, or will be, made public.

I have no idea what the lag time might be for land record details to be posted online, but nothing new is currently showing at the online land records portal on the county web site.

Meanwhile, a third thing that is now painfully obvious for being out of my control is wild predation on our attempts to free range chickens. I do believe, certainly based on our opinions as of last night, we are done trying. Around dinner time, we lost 22 of our 25 birds.

Sorry, David.

Since Cyndie said this time she has had it for good, I suggested we give you the three survivors.

She said, “They won’t last that long.”

I can’t argue with that assessment.

She did say that you can take our bags of chicken feed, variety of feeders, and multiple waterers.

I’ve seen her change her mind before, but this time I am ready to lobby strongly that she not start over another time.

However, history reveals this as another thing that is beyond my control: Countering her amazing ability to recover enough to regain her glimmer of hope after the immediate pain of the loss eventually eases.

For now, it feels like neither of us wants to repeat this highly unsettling routine one more time.



Everything Fatigue

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I can totally relate to the Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engine suffering metal fatigue last weekend. I’m feeling a bit of everything fatigue lately, although, I do my best to avoid raining debris all over people around me, unlike that airplane in Denver Saturday.

I’m clinging to my thread of sanity with a weary, wavering grip. There is a climate calamity unraveling right in front of our eyes that appears to deserve a lot more change to our ways of life than the slow-responding societies around the globe are revealing any willingness to undertake. Communities are burning, flooding, freezing, suffering drought, or reaching intolerably high temperatures –sometimes experiencing an unlikely combination of the extremes– but I still climb in my gas-powered car and drive an hour to work like always.

It just feels wrong.

It also feels dangerous. Yesterday morning, I had a close encounter that used up some of my limited luck on avoiding a collision on the interstate. I commonly operate in cruise control mode with my car holding the speed and distance related to the vehicle in front of me. A business panel van passed me on the left and then slowed down entering a curve in the highway. My car maintained the cruise speed and caught right up beside the van in the turn as it slowed, at which point he decided to move into my lane.

I hit the brakes and swerved as little as possible, having no time to look to the lane to my right for clearance. My lunch tote on the front seat instantly relocated to the floor below.

It happened so fast, I didn’t have time to honk my horn to alert the other driver to my position. I suspect the assumption was that I had been passed and was no longer a concern. It wouldn’t surprise me if the other driver wasn’t even aware of having slowed at the curve.

The event provided me an unwelcome shot of adrenaline and triggered visions of a fate I flirt with two times a day, four days a week. Haunted by a belief that anything can go dangerously wrong at any time when commuting in traffic, I’m feeling the fatigue of having tolerated the risks of this trip for too many years.

I’m fatigued with the pandemic, its death toll, and everything related to coping with the ever-present threat of spreading the virus.

I’m even growing fatigued with our latest jigsaw puzzle. We picked one with way too much solid black background that is cut entirely of one primary classic puzzle piece shape: four arms, a knob on each end, two cutouts on each side. The only variation is the size and shape of each of those features.

It is very possible I will give myself permission to give up before placing every piece. That just depends on whether searching for the barely perceptible features of each completely black piece distracts me from the other angsts nibbling at me and releases the blessed endorphins when I stumble upon ones that fit.

Endorphins do wonders for fatigue.





Relief Comes

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The temperature climbed above zero (F) yesterday. Given the reference point of the biting cold that we have been subject to for the last couple of weeks, stepping out into the February sunshine felt remarkably comfortable. Warm, even. Though it really wasn’t.

Just a little relief from the hunched clenching posture we and the chickens have been maintaining opens up a surprising amount of renewal in mind and body. Rocky and the hens were taking full advantage of the sunny wall on the end of the barn where we clear the snow for them.

Cyndie said the yellow Buff Orpington visible in the background of the image was digging in to take a little dust bath.

In a crazy coincidence of timing, Cyndie sent me a text about how big the icicle had grown from the corner of the barn roof. I suggested she knock it down proactively to avoid it falling unexpectedly. By the time she arrived to tend to the task, it had already fallen on its own.

Apparently, the frozen stalactite sensed our plan just as we were hatching it and took matters up with good old gravity to save us any extra trouble.

I struggle to reconcile a mixture of glee and guilt over the relative good fortune we are enjoying compared to the weather much of the rest of our country is suffering. The extreme cold we have dealt with is something we have lifetimes of experience and knowledge to cope with, while the cold and snow disrupting life in Texas and beyond is bizarrely out of the ordinary for them.

I feel for the hassles they are dealing with while also being grateful we have been spared a similar level of calamity.

May the southern states appreciate how quickly their climbing temperatures will melt the uncharacteristic amounts of snow that have fallen on them as we endure the typical long, slow transition from winter to spring our latitude abides.

Either way, relief does eventually come.



Written by johnwhays

February 17, 2021 at 7:00 am

Managing Well

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We managed to survive the coldest weekend so far this winter without too much trouble. Our heated waterer for the chickens didn’t fare so well, though. Cyndie brought it inside to thaw and tried a second time, but when it froze again, we put the backup unit into use.

I took advantage of the brittleness of frozen firewood logs and busted a bunch of them open on the manual splitter.

Full disclosure: That graphic wasn’t from this weekend. I keep my hat on when the windchill is minus-25°(F). Still, the exercise generates plenty of body warmth. Another reason I don’t need a gym membership for working out.

The ol’ Norwegian Smart-Splitter® is ideal for making kindling. Snaps off little bite sized pieces with one stroke. I push the limits a little bit and use it along with a separate wedge to split full-sized logs. Takes a few extra throws of the weight to coerce the more stubborn logs. If you look close, the once-yellow wedge is stuck in the wood beside the green wedge of the Smart Splitter. I’ve got a maul in my left hand and I switch back and forth between the two to increase expansion pressure until the wood finally gives.

Even though the wood was easier to split, I was less interested in being outside long enough to get it all done. Truth be told, I had a greater urge to lean back with my feet up in the recliner under a snuggly blanket.

Happily, Pequenita felt similar to me about spending the rest of the day on the recliner.

That’s what I call managing well to deal with a crazy, bitterly cold day.



Written by johnwhays

February 15, 2021 at 7:00 am